KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Francisco Liriano is starting to resemble the pitcher whose devastating slider once made him an All-Star with Cy Young potential.
The left-hander struck out eight over six innings Tuesday night, the only run he surrendered in the second inning proving to be the difference in a 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
“It’s bad we lost,” Liriano said, “but going out there and giving a chance for my team to win a ballgame makes me feel better.”
Liriano (1-6) allowed only four hits in six innings, but three of them came in the second, when the Twins’ failure to turn a double play proved costly.
Jeff Francoeur singled and Eric Hosmer chopped a pitch back at Liriano, who whirled around and threw to Brian Dozier covering second base. The return throw to first wasn’t in time to get Hosmer hustling down the line, and he promptly stole second to get into scoring position.
“I bobbled the ball a little bit,” Liriano said. “I think I made a good throw to second. He was hustling down there.”
Brayan Pena followed with a grounder through the left side for an RBI single.
“We just missed the double play over there. That cost us the one run, the lone run,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’m happy with Frankie. Most of the time when you give up one run it gives you a chance to win.”
Just not against Bruce Chen on this night.
The 34-year-old veteran allowed four hits without a walk to win for the fifth time in six starts. He relied mainly on guile to strike out five without allowing a runner past second.
Greg Holland worked around an error in the eighth for Kansas City, and Jonathan Broxton left runners on first and second in the ninth for his 14th save of the season.
“The bullpen has been tremendous for us,” Chen said. “Liriano did a real good job. He had great stuff. But we were able to scramble a run.”
Chen has been the Royals’ most dependable starter the past couple seasons, and he proved his worth to their patchwork rotation again versus their AL Central rivals.
He retired the first six batters he faced, and then helped himself after Dozier singled to lead off the third by catching him trying to steal. The only other hits Chen (5-5) allowed were a double by Dozier and singles by Darin Mastroianni and Jamey Carroll.
“He did a great job from the first inning on,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’d speed bats up and slow them down. He had very good location. He had good tempo and was banging strikes.”
Kansas City’s rotation has struggled much of the season, but has been a big reason why the Royals are positioned for a winning six-game homestand. They received superb starts from Felipe Paulino and Vin Mazzaro to take two of three from Oakland, both by 2-0 margins.
“Pitching is contagious,” Chen said. “The whole pitching staff is pushing each other.”
It was pushing Liriano on Tuesday night.
His slider kept mowing through the Royals lineup, just like the old days, and he even managed to match a major league record by striking out four batters in a single inning.
It happened in the fourth, when he set down Mike Moustakas for the second straight time. He fanned Francoeur on a ball in the dirt, which allowed him to reach first base. Liriano came back to strike out Hosmer and Pena to end the inning.
It was the third time this year that a pitcher has struck out four in an inning, and the second time in Twins history. Scott Baker did it June 15, 2008, against Milwaukee.
“My confidence has been there. My fastball I can throw most of time for strikes. Pitching is all about location,” Liriano said. “I’m throwing strikes and getting more ground balls.”
Ultimately, it was a groundball by Pena that doomed him to defeat.
Notes: Twins C Joe Mauer (sprained right thumb) was out of the lineup for the second straight game. … The Royals optioned LHP Will Smith to Triple-A Omaha and recalled LHP Ryan Verdugo. … Royals LHP Everett Teaford (lower abdominal strain) and 2B Chris Getz (bruised ribs) will begin rehab assignments Thursday at Omaha. … RHP Nick Blackburn will start the series finale Wednesday for Minnesota. Paulino takes the mound for Kansas City.
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